Surf Adventure Surf Trek with CHE: When the Road and Swell Point South. I woke at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, and finally rose at 3 a.m. with one of several alarms that I set in five-minute intervals. Before a surf adventure, I find sleep to be sparse and nearly impossible outside of short nap-like bursts of rest. Anticipation is like a steady drip of caffeine. I was anything but tired when I walked into the kitchen to press the coffee button on. I would be joining three other guys whose names also started with the letter “J,” and with whom I had never surfed before, at a spot I have long had reservations about. A response of “no” is never in my vocabulary though when it comes to a catching a wave and a surf adventure.
Leaving Playa Grande and driving through Matapalo nearly two hours before sunrise is an adventure in and of itself. High beams, prescription glasses, and my naturally slow approach to driving saved several sleeping sheep who chose the middle of the road on the other side of a blind curve as their ideal resting place. I dodged purple and orange land crabs, toads, and an opossum on the dark narrow road before reaching Charlie’s Bar. My coffee was still too hot to drink — a good thing for that steady anticipation drip. The last message I had received late Friday afternoon included instructions for where to meet at 4 a.m. and to not be late.
The boys rolled up at 4 a.m. on the dot. As someone who is perpetually punctual, I knew at this moment that the four of us were meant to adventure together. I hopped in their car with my board, and we were off chasing the sunrise and the south swell. We all hailed from different countries, but at various stages of our lives chose Costa Rica as our home, drawn and kept here by the waves among other things.
have waited all day
for a wave
A little less than three hours later, the four of us were standing in the beachfront backyard of a man named Cundino, following left lines running north across a river mouth and into a bay with our frothing eyes. The wind fluttered offshore, and the tide was sucked out so far you could almost walk out to the 300-meter-long wall of Amazon-brown ocean. The thought of crocodiles, bull sharks, and sewage almost instantaneously dissipated when I noticed the prestigious Blue Flag and perfect peelers. An abandoned plastic baby doll adorned the wooden sign that marked the spot where we would have our first surf of the day.
I opted to sit deep and wait for the steeper set waves that sporadically passed through, since I was the only one not on a longboard. As a lone sea wolf, this is often my approach when the line-up is crowded. For three stroke-heavy hours, I only randomly caught a glimpse of the three other “J’s” catching a wave or paddling back out after a seemingly never-ending ride. Sometimes it would be 10 minutes or more between sets that I could scrape into.
I was not without entertainment, though. From my vantage point, I was within earshot of a highly enthusiastic Zumba class full of dancers in bright neon outfits on the beach that hugged the cliff wall to my left. With the wind blowing offshore and the music bouncing off of the rock wall, I felt like I was sitting next to the speaker. Other times I felt like I was sitting in the middle of the dancers when they would holler out some indiscriminate cheer.
Alone but not lonely
The pull of the tide was strong, even though it would be hours before the tide was high. Several times I got caught in the tendrils of the river mouth pulling me down as if it were using me to pull itself out deeper into the bay. The force of the river’s energy flowing and colliding with incoming waves was tumultuous. There were waves where I felt utterly alone but not lonely as I glided past everything and everyone.
After hours apart, I was given a signal that everyone was getting out. I struggled to catch an exit wave as my arms felt like cooked noodles, my mouth was dry as a desert, and the granola bar I ate at 5 a.m. had long been expended. The plan was to refuel first and then continue our surf adventure at another nearby wave. The order of this plan flipped when we pulled up to the next wave, and the conditions were glassy. There is always the chance of the wind switching onshore, so when it’s offshore, you’d best just go.
The surf looked small, but we figured we’d find a wave or two. What we didn’t expect was for it to jump from chest high to well overhead in a matter of half an hour or so. The first set of the latter size cleaned up the line-up in one wave. No one expected the set that came through; we were all too far inside. After recovering from the washout, I had it in my head that I absolutely had to get at least one of those set waves. I would have waited all day for a wave like that! Fortunately, I didn’t have to though. My mantra of “sit deep, get to your feet, don’t look down,” paid off quite nicely.
Timing is everything
After our surf adventure, we ate eggs and gallo pinto in exhaustion and ecstasy from the two sessions we had all enjoyed. By the time we had finished breakfast, the spot we had just surfed had gone flat; timing is everything. Collectively ambitious, we thought we’d maybe try one more session, but upon returning to the original spot, we realized that none of our bodies really wanted that. The tide was high now, and the river had swollen and burst over the banks. The paddle out would have been exponentially longer and more challenging than when we got in at low tide. Sunned out and surfed out, we got in the car and set our course north to return from whence we came, beaming from the waves we’d all caught.
What Makes a Wave Spit?
The Climate is Changing, Will There Be Waves?
Hurricanes in Costa Rica?
The Importance of Swell Angle
What Makes a Good Surf Spot
What Makes a Good Surf Spot 2
Why Do Waves Break?
Cold Water in Costa Rica?
The Science of Stoke
Tamarindo Spot Check
The Papagayo Winds
How Waves Are Created